Be kind to the person behind the counter

I only had 30 minutes for lunch today. I went to "Lotteria" on the Pusan waterfront, mistakenly thinking I could grab an unnutritious, bland, cheap, quick fast food lunch. I waited 25 minutes for my meal and had to take it to go. I brought it back to the hotel and didn’t have a chance to eat it until 2:30 p.m., long after lunchtime. The cashier behind the counter took an excrutiating long time to fill my order. I was really hungry while I helped customers myself.

Did I yell at her? Nope. Did I chastise her for taking so long? No, I didn’t. I told her I needed to change my order to go. She knew what I meant and apologized. I told her I under stood because many years ago I also worked in fast food. I remember what it was like dealing with irate customers. This poor girl had to run the entire store while 200 or more Korean schoolchildren milled around, waiting to go to the aquarium. She was cook and cashier. I watched how fast she had to work keeping up with customers, making and filling their order. She literally ran to the back area to make the food. I could have ranted at her for being slow in filling my order, but instead, I empathized. I felt sorry for her and was mad at her management for scheduling so few people to run the store. At the very least, the store manager should have been there to help out if the restaurant was short staffed. Instead, this girl had to work her heart out filling orders for impatient, disgruntled customers. I have been in her shoes myself. I know how frustrating it can feel. I did learn one thing from years of working in "hamburger hell"–be kind to the person working behind the counter, serving you. They’re people too, and you never know when they will pay your kindness forward or take your anger out on someone else.

Most of the Americans I helped in Pusan this week were nice and understanding, even when they waited awhile. However, one person in particular was not so kind. They cut in line to ask me a question, and they got angry because they did not wait to get all of the information they needed and were consequently inconvenienced when they found out they needed to provide me with additional information. Their response was very curt and abrasive, and they stated with irritation in their voice, "Fine, I’ll go to Seoul." They refused to wait patiently and finish in Pusan, instead opting to be even more inconvenienced by taking a train all the way up to Seoul. Guess who will be waiting for them in Seoul? Yours truly. Will they receive good service from me up there? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether I want to take my irritation out on them or repay them with kindness. I haven’t decided yet.

Greetings from Haeundae!

I’m writing you in the business center at the lovely 5-star Paradise Hotel in Haeundae, Korea.  I’m about 14 kilometers from Pusan.  I was happy to find out the hotel that has free Internet access so I can post at least a short blog entry today.  The hotel is very nice.  It sits on the waterfront overlooking Korea’s most popular beach.  During the summer, up to 90,000 visitors a day flock to Haeundae to enjoy the beach.  It isn’t quite Waikiki, Hawaii, but Haeundae is definitel a nice resort town.  I’m glad that it’s fall now, because I can enjoy the town and the beach in relative peace and quiet.  In mid-November, this place will change dramatically as Haeundae hosts the upcoming APEC Summit.  In fact, today the power went off several times at the hotel as engineers ran test power outages in advance of the APEC Summit.
I came down here for work.  I will help Americans for a couple of days before returning to Seoul.  My family is coming along for the ride.  I could not have asked for a better job assignment.  I wanted to come down to help out with APEC Summit preparations, but it was not meant to be.  I’m more than happy to settle for this assignment, because I hear that those who will be involved with APEC will be scrounging around for places to sleep.  My room is comfortable with a gorgeous view of the beach and the East Sea (a.k.a. Sea of Japan).  Sometimes this job is so tough.  Someone has to do it!  🙂
My wife and son arrive soon.  They are taking the KTX train to Pusan like I did yesterday.  My son is absolutely fascinated by trains, and his appetite for all things "Thomas" (Thomas the Tank Engine) is insatiable.  Riding the KTX train will be a joy for him, at least for part of the trip.  I hope he gets a window seat so he can see the Korean countryside.  One of his favorite "Thomas the Tank Engine" characters is Spencer, the sleek, modern silver train owned by the Duke and Duchess.  We told my son before the trip that he will ride on Spencer to see daddy, and he grew very excited.  The trip is short–about 2.5 hours–so it should keep him preoccupied for awhile.  I hope his mom was able to manage him without consternation! 
I will try to write again tomorrow about Pusan.  From what I have seen, it’s a beautiful city hugging the coastline and cradling the mountains inside the city limits.  It’s one of the world’s largest seaports, and it has a great seaport atmosphere.  If you visit Korea and have time, take a journey out of Seoul on the KTX and visit Pusan.

A husband-wife team teams up

My wife is putting our son to bed, so I have a little time tonight to tell you about our anniversary celebration today.  Again, thanks to everyone who posted an anniversary suggestion.  You gave me some great ideas for future anniversary celebrations.  This year we did not buy each other any gifts.  Instead, we gave each other the gift of time.  I took the day off, and we left our son with the nanny for the day and ventured out to celebrate our anniversary as a couple.  We went hiking at Bukhansan National Park located just north of Seoul.  When I told my boss that we were going hiking for our anniiversary, he thought the idea was a bit odd.  Perhaps so, but then again, we aren’t a conventional couple.  Hiking is one of our favorite joys in life.  We love to travel and hike wherever we go.  Our all-time favorite "hike" was Cinque Terre, Italy, followed by Maui, Hawaii.  (Cinque Terre is a group of traditional Italian villages about an hour north of Pisa along the Meditteranean Sea.  If you have ever been to Cinque Terre, you will probably agree that it is truly breathtaking.)  I posted photos of both our Bukhansan National Park and Myeongdong trip in the photos section.  A reader mentioned that I should post more photos of Koreans, so I tried to take more photos with people this time.  People are key to understanding any culture. 
We left home at about 11 a.m. this morning.  We took the subway to Dobongsan Station on Line 1 and Line 7.  Dobongsan is situated in the far northern reaches of Seoul and borders the north end of Bukhansan National Park.  A mere 78 square kilometers, according to Lonely Planet, Bukhansan is a gem a place in greater Seoul.  The park’s granite peaks are beautiful, and the park is just a 40-minute subway ride from downtown Seoul.  Lonely Planet offered far too few details about the park in its Korea guidebook.  The book mentioned Dobongsan in just one sentence, highlighting a glaring shortcoming of the world’s most famous guidebook.  Lonely Planet is great for backpacking, short-term tourists, and those on a shoestring budget, but I find that Lonely Planet guides lack depth and do not meet the expectations of expatriates.  Anyway, my wife and I walked about 15 minutes from the station to the park entrance.  The entrance located at the end of the first street to the left of the station.  The park entrance is surrounded by dozens of restaurants and hiking equipment/clothing stores.  Bodongsan features a number of tofu restaurants, seafood restaurants, beer tents, and REI-style shops.  It’s a great place for hikers to go before or after their hike in the park.
We decided beforehand not to overly exert ourselves hiking.  He haven’t hiked for awhile, and today is a weekday.  We will head to Pusan soon and need to save our energy.  The hike began easily enough; the paved and cobblestone path gradually ascended into the park next to a beautiful stream with cascading waterfalls.  Along the way, we passed a Buddhist temple and saw Koreans relaxing near the stream.  Equipment vendors hawked outdoor gear and Buddhist paraphenelia, and a saxophonist played a pretty song that wafted through the valley.  The weather was beautiful again today, making the hike a pleasant one.  We hiked along the stream for about half an hour.  When the pavement ended and the natural path began, it split into two branches.  We took the left branch and headed towards Ulum Rock.  The ascent was relatively steep, perhaps a three out of five on the hiker’s scale.  The path was well worn and friendly.  We made it to the apex of the loop path we hiked and took photos of the mountains and the Seoul cityscape.  We then descended and arrived back at the park entrance about an hour later.  We did not try to hike up to Ulum Rock today.  Korean hikers told us we had the wrong kinds of shoes.  (I wore Teva sandals, and my wife wore casual shoes.  Koreans are quick to notice footwear.  When I was in Seoraksan, a man on the mountain wearing dress shoes told me my Teva sandals were inadequate for hiking.  I laughed to myself.)  Our anniversary journey in Bukhansan National Park lasted about three hours.  Upon returning to the park entrance, we rested at an outdoor cafe. 
Later, we took the subway to Myeongdong, a famous shopping district in Seoul.  It is trendy and happening, one of many places in Seoul where Korean youths rule.  We ate our anniversary dinner at The Taj, a delicious Indian restaurant.  We also shopped a bit, and I observed the throngs of people in Myeongdong.  I saw very few foreigners, perhaps a handful, at either Bukhansan or Myeongdong.  I wore a Hawaiian shirt today, and I was a very obvious misfit in both locales.  The Koreans at Dobongsan generally wore hiking gear that left the impression that they are avid hikers.  None wore sandals and a shirt like I did.  In Myeongdong, trendy Koreans wore the latest fashions.  Hawaiian shirts are not in style, apparently!  I was a bit surprised to find that even in trendy Myeongdong, there are barbershops that offer "other" services.  In Korea, one barbershop pole indicates you can get a haircut and a platonic massage.  A double barbershop pole means that for an additional price you can receive sexual services (see photos in Myeongdong album).  Barbershops and karaoke establishments are everywhere in Korea, and some are fronts for illicit services.  It is one of the aspects of Korean society that most folks here know about but rarely discuss.
My wife and I make a great team.  We complement one another well.  She tends to be strong where I am weak, and vice versa.  Today’s anniversary journey was a test of our ability to work as a team.  My wife suggested hiking at Bukhansan, and I located Dobongsan and guided us there.  We helped each other all along the hike.  For example, we saw the Korean word "bong" everywhere and wondered what it meant.  I saw a map and guessed that it meant "peak," and she corroborated that assumption by pointing out that "bong" is related to the Chinese word for "peak," or "feng."  We are a great team, and I’m glad that we have been a team that has lasted for better or for worse, richer and poorer, through sickness and health.